Circus big cats begin a new life in South Africa

12 tigers and 5 lions can now experience freedom


Thanks to the tireless work of the charity Animal Defenders International (ADI), 17 big cats have been relocated to a permanent home after being rescued from a life of suffering in a Guatemalan circus.


The animals’ journey to freedom marks the successful conclusion of the organisation’s 20-month Operation Liberty mission, ending circus suffering in yet another country.


After banning the use of animals in circuses in 2017, the Guatemalan government invited ADI to help enforce the law after it came into effect 12 months later, as several circuses were still defying the regulation.


Having successfully completed similar missions in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, the organisation launched Operation Liberty in May 2018 in an attempt to assist authorities’ with the ban.


‘The beginning of the rest of their lives’


President of ADI, Jan Creamer, commented: “These animals have experienced a lifetime of suffering and abuse in circuses in Guatemala, but those days are over.”

“At the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary (ADIWS), our place of loving-kindness, the tigers and lions can run, play, and explore their wonderful, natural surroundings under the African sun. It’s the beginning of the rest of their lives – we could not be happier for them.”



The animals’ journey to freedom began on 18th January at the temporary rescue centre in Guatemala, where they have been cared for since their rescue.


Following this, the cats were then carefully transported to the Operation Liberty Flight, which departed from La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City.


The flight made stops in Mexico, Belgium and Qatar to load and unload cargo, before reaching its final destination in South Africa.


During transportation, the big cats were monitored by veterinarian Dr Howard Rosner and provided with food and water, provided by ADI founders and rescue team leaders Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips.


On the 21st January, and after more than 34 hours flying, the animals arrived safely at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.


For the final leg of their journey home, the animals then travelled by truck to the 455-acre ADIWS in Free State. This sanctuary is now home to 43 big cats, all but one rescued from circuses in Latin America.


Now, these creatures who were once confined to bare cages about the area of a queen-sized bed –can enjoy natural grassland enclosures with native trees and bushes, platforms, dens and night houses.


All of the animals have received veterinary treatment, with several experiencing health issues due to inbreeding; others require dental surgery to repair damaged teeth.


Due to the abuse these beings have suffered and their years of confinement, it is not possible to re-release them in the wild. Most of the animals were declawed in the circus — a cruel mutilation to remove the claws.


To support the ongoing care of the animals at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, donations can be made here.

To adopt an animal, visit the ADI website. 




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